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Despite trading near the breakeven mark for most of the day, the Dow Jones Industrial Average (INDEX: ^DJI ) took a late dive to finish down 89 points or 0.7%. To no one's surprise, the fiscal cliff was again the culprit, as Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said this afternoon that "little progress" had been made toward reaching an agreement. With little more than a month left, time is running out before automatic cuts and tax increases go into effect at the beginning of 2013.
There was some good news to be found on the macroeconomic front, however. Durable-goods orders were flat for October, though that beat expectations of a slight drop and comes off a 9.2% sequential jump in September. The Conference Board's consumer confidence index also rose to a four-year high of 73.7, indicating that optimism about the recovery is increasing, and the Case Shiller 20-City Index reached a high not seen since July 2010, showing that housing prices in major metropolitan areas grew by 3% in the year up to this past September.
Turning to individual stocks, Hewlett-Packard (NYSE: HPQ ) was again a major mover today, falling 3% in the aftermath of its $8.8 billion writedown on its Autonomy acquisition. In an open letter responding to Autonomy head Mike Lynch, HP said it "uncovered extensive evidence of a willful effort to inflate the underlying financial metrics." Lynch has denied any wrongdoing on the part of his company, and the two parties seemed headed for an intense legal battle.
Drugmaker Merck (NYSE: MRK ) announced that it will raise its quarterly dividend to $0.43 from $0.42. Shares fell 0.7%, however, amid the greater market drop. Investors could also have been hoping for a larger dividend increase, as companies tend to raise the payouts just once a year, and the stock has gained nearly 30% in the past year, lowering the yield along the way.
There were no big gainers on the Dow today, but battered Green Mountain Coffee Roasters (Nasdaq: GMCR ) , which has had a trying year to say the least, posted blowout earnings after hours today. The stock was up 22% at the time of writing to $35, its highest point since early May. The Keurig-maker had fallen over concerns about patents that expired in September, but it still posted a jump in adjusted earnings per share to $0.64, well ahead of estimates of $0.48, and a total revenue increase 33%. Despite the patent expiration, the company seemed to prove that it is still capable of growth, as its guidance also topped the experts' estimates. Green Mountain expects EPS of $2.64 to $2.74 in the coming fiscal year against estimates of $2.49.
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